* * *
Thaker went on to explain how each pair could obtain instruction and assistance in many projects, including starships. How each pair would, when they were mature enough, be coached in the use of certain abilities they did not as yet have. He suggested procedures and techniques to be employed in the opening up of each pair's volume of space. He then asked for questions and comments.
Semolo was the first. "If I'm a good little boy," he sneered, "and do exactly as I'm told, and take over the region you tell me to and not the one I want to, what assurance have I that some other Prime, just because he's a year older than I am, won't come along and take it away from me?"
"Your question is meaningless," Thaker replied. "Since you will not 'take over,' or 'have,' or 'own,' any region, it cannot be 'taken away from you.'"
"Then I will...." Semolo began.
"You will keep still!" came a clear, incisive thought, just as Garlock was getting ready to intervene. Miss Mitala then switched from thought, which everyone there could understand, and launched a ten-second blast of furious speech. Semolo wilted and the girl went on in thought: "He'll be good—or else."
A girl demanded recognition and got it. "Semolo's right. What's the use of being Primes if we can't get any good out of it? We're the strongest people of our respective worlds. I say we're bosses and should keep on being bosses."
Garlock got ready to shut her up, then paused; holding his fire.
"Ah, yes, friend Garlock, you are maturing fast," came Thaker's thought and, in answer to Garlock's surprise, it went on, "This situation will, I think, be self-adjusting; just as will be those in the as yet unexplored regions of space."
The girl kept on. "I, at least, am going to keep on bossing my own planet, milking it just as I...."
Her companion had been trying to crack her shield. Failing in that, he stepped in close and tapped her—solidly, but with carefully-measured force—behind the ear. Before she could fall, he 'ported her back up into their quarters. "This happens all the time," he explained to the group at large. "Carry on."
Discussion went on, with less and less acrimony, all the rest of the day. And the next day, and the next. Then, argument having reached the point of diminishing returns, the three starships took the forty-six couples home.
* * *
The six Primes went into Evans' office, where the lawyer was deeply engaged with Gerald Banks, the Galaxians' Public Relations Chief. Banks was holding his head in both hands.
"Garlock, maybe you can tell me," Banks demanded. "How much of this stuff, if any, can I publish? And if so, how?"
"Nothing," Garlock said, flatly.
"What do you think, Thaker?" Belle asked. "You're smarter than we are."
"What Thaker thinks has no bearing," Garlock said.
Belle, Fao, and Delcamp all began to protest at once, but they were silenced by Thaker himself.
"Garlock is right. My people are not your people; I know not at all how your people think or what they will or will not believe. I go."
"That lets Deg and me out too; then, double-plus," Fao said with a grin, "so we'll leave that baby on your laps. We go, too."
"Well, little Miss Weisenheimer," Garlock smiled quizzically at Belle, "You grabbed the ball—what are you going to do with it?"
"Nothing, I guess...." Belle thought for a minute. "We couldn't stuff any part of that down the throat of a simple-minded six-year-old. We haven't really got anything, anyway. Time enough, I think, when we have six or seven hundred planets in each region, instead of only one planet. Maybe we'll know something by then. Does that make sense?"
"It does to me," Garlock said, and the others agreed.
"That Thakern 'we go' business sounds rough at first, but it's contagious. Fao and Deggi caught it, and I feel like I'm coming down with it myself. How about you, Clee?"
"We go," Belle and Garlock said in unison, and vanished.
* * *
Aboard the Pleiades, the next few days passed quietly enough. James set up, in the starship's memory banks, a sequence to mass-produce instruction tapes and blueprints. Garlock and Belle began systematically to explore the Tellurian Region. Now, however, their technique was different. If either Prime of any world was not enthusiastic about the project—
"Very well. Think it over," they would say. "We will get in touch with you again in about a year," and the starship would go on to the next planet.
On Earth, however, things became less and less tranquil with every day that passed. For, in deciding not to publish anything, Garlock had not considered at all the basic function and the tremendous ability, power, and scope of The Press. And Galaxian Hall had never before been closed to the public; not for any hour of any day of any year of its existence. A non-profit organization, dependent upon the public for its tremendous income, the Galaxian Society had always courted that public in every possible ethical way.
Thus, in the first hour of closure, a bored reporter came out, read the smoothly-phrased notice, and lepped it in to the desk. It might be worth, he thought, half an inch.
Later in the day, however, the world's most sensitive news-nose began to itch. Did, or did not, this quiet, unannounced closing smell ever-so-slightly of cheese? Wherefore, Benjamin Bundy, the newscaster who had covered the starship's maiden flight, went out himself to look the thing over. He found the whole field closed. Not only closed, but Gunther-blocked impenetrably tight. He studied the announcement, his sixth sense—the born newsman's sense for news—probing every word.
"Regret ... research ... of such extreme delicacy ... vibration ... temperature control ... one one-hundredth of one degree Centigrade...."
He sought out his long-time acquaintance Banks; finding him in a temporary office half a block away from the Hall. "What's the story, Jerry?" he asked. "The real story, I mean?"
"You know, as much about it as I do, Ben. Garlock and James don't waste time trying to detail me on that kind of business, you know."
This should have satisfied any newshawk, but Bundy's nose still itched. He mulled things over for a minute, then probed, finding that he could read nothing except Banks' outermost, most superficial thoughts.
"Well ... maybe ... but...." Then Bundy plunged. "All you have to do, Jerry, is tell me screens-half-down that your damn story is true."
"And that's the one thing I can't do," Banks admitted; and Bundy could not detect that any part of his sheepishness was feigned. "You're just too damned smart, Ben."
"Oh—one of those things? So that's it?"
"Yup. I told Evans it might not work."
That should have satisfied the reporter, but it didn't. "Now it doesn't smell just a trifle cheesy; it stinks like rotten fish. You won't go screens down on that one, either."
"Oh, joy!" Bundy exulted. "So big that Gerald Banks, the top press-agent of all time, actually doesn't want publicity! The starship works—this lack-of-control stuff is the bunk—from here to another star in nothing flat—Garlock's back, and he's brought—what have you got in there, Jerry?"
"The only way I can tell you is in confidence, for Evans' release. I'd like to, Ben, believe me, but I can't."
"Confidence, hell! Do you think we won't get it?"
"In that case, no comment." The interview ended and the siege began.
* * *
Newshounds and detectives questioned and peered and probed. They dug into morgues, tabulating and classifying. They recalled and taped and sifted all the gossip they had heard. They got a picture of sorts, but it was maddeningly confusing and incomplete. And, since it was certain that inter-systemic matters were involved, they could not extrapolate—any guess was far too apt to be wrong. Thus nothing went on the air or appeared in print; and, although the surface remained calm, all newsdom seethed to its depths.
Wherefore haggard Banks and harried Evans greeted Garlock with shouts of joy when the four wanderers came back to spend the week end on Earth.
"I'll talk to 'em," Garlock decided, after the long story had been told. "Have somebody get hold of Bundy and ask him to come out."
"Get hold of him!" Banks snorted. "He's here. Twenty-four hours a day. Eating sandwiches and cat-napping on chairs in the lobby. All you have to do is unseal that door."
Garlock flung the door wide. Bundy rushed in, followed by a more-or-less steady stream of some fifty other top-bracket newspeople, both men and women.
"Well, Garlock, perhaps you will give us some screens-down facts?" Bundy asked, angrily.
"I'll give you all the screens-down...."
"Clee!" "You're crazy!" "You can't!" "Don't!" Belle and all the Operators protested at once.
* * *
Ignoring the objections, Garlock cut his shield to half and gave the whole group a true account of everything that had happened in the galaxy. Then, while they were all too stunned to speak, a grin of saturnine amusement spread over his dark, five-o'clock-shadowed face.
"You pestiferous gnats insisted on grabbing the ball," he sneered. "Now let's see you run with it."
Bundy came out of his trance. "What a story!" he yelled. "We'll plaster it...."
"Yeah," Garlock said, dryly. "What a story. Exactly."
"Oh." Bundy deflated suddenly. "You'll have to prove it—demonstrate it—of course."
"Of course? You tickle me. Not only do I not have to prove it, I won't. I won't even confirm it."
Bundy glared at Garlock, then whirled on Banks. "If you don't give me this in shape to use, you'll never get another line or mention anywhere!"
"Oh, no?" For the first time in his professional life Banks gloated, openly and avidly. "From now on, my friend, who is in the saddle? Who is going to come to whom? Oh, brother!"
When the fuming newsmen had gone, Garlock said, "It'll leak, of course."
"Of course," Banks agreed. "'It is rumored ...' 'from a usually reliable source ...' and so on. Nothing definite, but each one of them will want to put out the first and biggest."
"That's what I figured. It'll have to break sometime and I thought easing it out would be best ... but wait a minute...." he thought for two solid minutes. "But we're going to need a lot of money, and we're just about broke, aren't we?" This thought was addressed to Frank Macey, the Galaxians' treasurer.
"Worse than broke—much worse."
"I could loan you a couple of credits, Frank," Belle said, brightly. "But go ahead, Clee."
"People like to be sidewalk superintendents. Suppose they could watch the construction of an outpost so far away that nobody ever dreamed of ever getting there. Could you do anything with that, Jerry?"
"Could I! Just!" and Banks, went into a rhapsody.
"That's the first good idea any one of you crackpots has had for five years," Macey said, suddenly. "But wouldn't transportation of material and so on present problems?"
"No; just buying it," Garlock said, soberly. "Oh, rather, paying for it."
"No trouble there...."
"What?" Belle exclaimed. "'No trouble,' it says here in fine print? How the old skinflint has changed—instead of screaming his head off about spending money he's actually offering to. Frank, I'll loan you three credits!"
"Hush, honey-chile, the men-folks are talking man-business. Look, Clee. We'll use the Pleiades at first, while we're building a regular transport. A hundred passengers per trip, one thousand credits one way...."
"Wow!" Belle put in. "Our ex-skinflint is now a bare-faced, legally-protected robber."
"By no means, Belle," Evans said. "How much would that be per mile?"
"Say ten round trips per day. That would be twenty million a day gross for a small ship not intended for passenger service. When we get ships built ... and the extras...." The money-man went into a financial revel of his own.
"Lots of extras," Banks agreed. "And oh, brother, what a public-relations dream of heaven!"
"Maybe I'm dumb," Garlock broke in, "but just what are you going to use for money to get started?"
"The minute we confirm any part of the story, the credit of the Galaxian Society will jump from X-O to AA-A1."
"Oh. So Belle and I will have to lose our Pleiades for a while. I don't like that, but we do need the money ... but we can have her for this coming week?"
"So maybe we'd better break the story now, instead of letting it leak."
"Can you, after what you just told them?"
"Sure I can." He set his mind and searched. "Bundy, this is Garlock...."
"So what am I supposed to do—burst into tears of joy?"
"Save it. I changed my mind. You can break it as fast and as hard as you like. I'll play along."
* * *
"Yeah? Why the switch? What's the angle?"
"Strictly commercial. Get it from Banks."
"And you'll—personally—go on my hour with it?"
"Yes. Also, we'll demonstrate—take you to any star-system in the galaxy. You and all the rest of the newshawks who were here and any fifty VIP's you want to invite. Tomorrow morning all right with you?"
"You, personally, in the Pleiades?" Bundy insisted.
"Better than that. The other two starships, too. You've got them—particularly those four Primes—clearly in mind?"
"Not exactly, there was so much of it. Spread it on me now, huh?" Garlock did so. "Thanks, pal, for the scoop. I'll crash it right now, and follow up with Banks. 'Bye!"
"Think you can deliver on that, Clee?" Banks asked.
"Sure. Both Deggi and Alsyne will need a lot of extra money, fast. They'll play along."
They did; and that three-starship tour—which visited twenty solar systems instead of one—was the most sensational thing old Earth had ever spawned.
Belle and Garlock did not spend that week end on Earth. "We go," they said, as soon as the Pleiades was empty of pressmen, and they took James and Lola along. "If we never see another such brawl as this is going to be," Belle told Banks, who was basking in glory and entreating them to stay on for the show, "it will be exactly twenty minutes too soon."
Thus it came about that Earth's first four deep-spacemen were completely out of reach when unexpected developments began.
* * *
Alonzo P. Ferber was one of the VIP's on Bundy's personally-conducted tour of the stars. As has been said, he was a very able executive. He had an extremely keen profit-sense. This new thing smelled—simply reeked—of money. SSE would have to get in on it.
Ferber was not thin-skinned; where money was concerned it would never even occur to him to cherish grudges or to retain animosities. Wherefore SSE's purchasing department suggested to the Galaxian Society that negotiations be opened concerning licenses, franchises, royalties, and so on. These suggestions were politely but firmly brushed off. Then emissaries were sent, of ever-increasing caliber and weight. Next, Ferber himself tried the tri-di; and finally, he came in person.
Rebuffed, he made such legally-sound threats that Evans and Macey agreed to a meeting; stating flatly, however, that no commitments could possibly be made without the knowledge and approval of the Society's president, Cleander Garlock. Thus, at the meeting, the Galaxians made only two statements that were even approximately definite. One was that Garlock would probably return to Earth during the afternoon or evening of the following Friday; the other that they would take the matter up with Garlock as soon as they could.
After that meeting Macey was unperturbed, but Evans was a deeply worried man.
"You see," he explained, "the real crux was not even mentioned."
"No? What is it, then?"
"Operators, Primes, and the practically non-existent laws pertaining to their ... what? Labor? Skill? Genius? For instance, could Garlock be forced to do whatever it is that he does? On the other hand, if Ferber offered Belle Bellamy five million credits a year to 'work' for SSE, is there anything we could do about it?"
"Oh. I thought all there was to it was that you'd delay 'em for a year or so and that'd be it."
"Far from it. To date I have listed fifty-eight points for which, as far as we can learn, there are no precedents," and the lawyer called a meeting of his staff.
For Belle and Garlock, the week went fast. On Friday afternoon, high above Earth's Galaxian Field, Garlock said, more than half regretfully, "No more fun. Back to the desk. Back to the salt-mines."
"I weep for you," Belle snickered. "Sob, sob. Shed him a tear, Lola."
"One tear coming up. Oh, woe; oh, woe...."
"Oh, whoa!" James snorted. "Why the sob-and-moan routine, Clee, from a guy who's going to be monarch of all he surveys?"
"His conscience aches him," Belle explained. "This monarching business is tough if you haven't thought about how to monarch, and he hasn't. Have you, Clee?"
"Not a lick." Garlock smiled slightly. "I been busy."
"You better start to," she advised, darkly. "You aren't busy now and we have an hour. We better confer—I'll make like a slave-driver."
They 'ported into his room and he set the blocks. His attitude changed instantly. "Nice act, Belle. What was it all about?"
"That theory of yours. Your predictions are too uncannily accurate to be guesswork, and the more times you dead-center the bullseye the worse scared I get. I really want to know, Clee."
"Okay. It isn't complete—I need a lot more data—but I'll show you what I have. It's fairly strong medicine and it comes in big chunks."
"It would have to—it covers the whole macrocosmic universe, doesn't it?"
"Yes. I'll start with the striking fact that, on every out-galaxy planet we visited, the human beings were Homo sapiens to N decimal places. Fertile with each other and, according to expert testimony, with us. All planets had humanoid 'guardians,' the Arpalones and Arpales. Some, but not all, had one or more non-human, more-or-less-intelligent races, such as the Fumapties, the Lemarts, the Sencors, and so on. These other races never seemed to fight each other, but both races of Guardians fought any and all of them, on sight and to the death. What do those facts mean to you?"
* * *
"Nothing beyond face value. I've thought about them but I haven't been able to come up with anything."
"I have." He unrolled a sheet of drafting paper covered with diagrams, symbols, and equations. "But before I go into this stuff, consider the human body. How many red cells are there in your blood stream?"
"Billions, I suppose."
"And there are billions of human beings on billions of planets; each having red blood cells identical, as far as we know, with yours and mine. Also white cells. Also, sometimes, various kinds of pathogenic micro-organisms, such as staphs, streps, viruses, spiros, and so on.
"Okay. My thought is that the Lemarts, Ozobes, and the like are analogous to disease-producing organisms. We saw the full range of effects—from none at all up to death itself."
"But they—the Ozobes and so on—died, too."
* * *
"How long do disease germs live in a human body after they've killed it?"
"But that horrible Dilipic—the golop. They don't seem to fit."
"Try that on for size as cancer. Also, the Arpalones typed us before they'd let us land on any planet. Why didn't we blast them out of the way and land anyway?"
"Why, we didn't want to. It wasn't worth while."
"We couldn't. Psychic block. And if we had, we would have died. Different blood-types don't mix."
"So you and I are merely two red cells in the bloodstream of a super-dooper-galactic super-monster? Phooie!" she jeered. "That chestnut was propounded a thousand years ago. Are you trying to take me for a ride on that old sawhorse?"
"That's the attitude I had at first. So now we're ready for the chart." He pointed to a group of symbols. "We start with symbolic logic; manipulating like so to get this." There was a long mathematical dissertation; a mind-to-mind, rigorous, point-by-point proof.
"Q. E. D." Garlock concluded.
"I see your math, and if I believed half of it I'd be scared witless. Those few pieces fit, but they're scattered around in vast areas of blankness and you're jumping around like the Swiss miss leaping from Alp to Alp. And how about our own galaxy, the most important piece of all? It's different, and we're different, mentally. That wrecks your whole theory."
"No. I told you I need a lot more data. Also, beyond a certain point the analogy appears to get looser."
"Appears to! It's as loose as a goose!"
"Think a minute. Is it actually loose, or are we getting up into concepts that no human mind can grasp? That might be the case, you know."
"Oh.... You're quite a salesman, Clee, but I'm still not buying."
"Our galaxy is a bit of specialized tissue—part of a ganglion, maybe. Over here, see? I'll have to leave it dangling until we find some more like it."
"I see. But anyway, you haven't a tenth's worth of real material on that whole sheet. Feed everything you have there into a computer and it'd just laugh at you."
"Sure it would. The great advantage of the human brain is its ability to arrive at valid conclusions from incomplete data. For instance, what would your computer do with the figures you shot at me the day we started out? 'Thirty-nine, twenty-two, thirty-nine. Five seven. One thirty-five.' Yet they're completely informative."
"To anyone interested in that kind of figures, yes."
"Which includes practically all adults. Then take the figure three point one four one five nine. Compy would still be baffled; but, unlike the first set, most people would be, too."
"Yes. Perhaps two out of ten would get your message."
"Now take something really new, like the original work on gravitation or relativity. No possible computer would be of any use. That takes a brain!"
"The brain of a Newton or an Einstein, yes." Belle thought for a minute, then grinned at him impishly. "Now watch the brain of a Bellamy perform. Get into high gear, brain.... I wish I knew something about biochemical embryology; but I read somewhere that ova are sterile, so our galaxy is an ovum. Therefore our super-galooper is a gal—which incontrovertible fact accounts for and explains rigorously the long-known truth that women always have been, are now, and always will be vastly superior to men in every quality, aspect, and...."
"Hold it!" Garlock snapped. His face hardened into intense concentration. Then: "Do you think you're kidding, Belle?"
"Why, of course I'm kidding, you big...."
"Look here, then." He picked up a pencil and filled in blank after blank after blank. "I'm making one unjustifiable assumption—that the Pleiades is the first intergalactic starship. The super-being is a female, and she is just becoming pregnant...."
"Flapdoodle! There are no blood cells in a sperm, and I don't think there are any in an ovum."
"I didn't mention either sperm or ovum. The analogy is so loose here that it holds only in the broadest, most general terms. The actual process of reproduction is unknowable. But wherever we went, we changed things. Not only by what we actually did, but also as a catalyst—no...."
"No, not a catalyst. A hormone."
"Exactly. Each of these changes would cause others, and so on. An infinite series. Calling the first three terms alpha, beta, and gamma, we operate like this...." Garlock's pencil was flying now. "Following me?"
"On your tail." Belle was breathing hard; as the blank spaces became fewer and fewer her face began to turn white.
"From this we get that ... and that makes the whole bracket tie into the same conclusion I had before. So, except for that one assumption, it's solid."
* * *
"My Lord, Clee!" Belle studied the chart. "I mentioned Newton and Einstein ... add to that 'the brain of a Garlock, better than either.'" Then, seeing his reaction, "You're blushing. I didn't think...."
"Cut the comedy. You know I couldn't carry either of their hats to a dog-fight."
"And I would never have believed that you are basically modest."
"I said cut out the kidding, Belle."
"I'm deadly serious. A brain that could do that," she waved at the chart, "... well, even I am not enough of a heel to belittle one of the most tremendous intuitions ever achieved by man. Not that I like it. It's horrible. It denies mankind everything that made him come up from the slime—everything that made him man."
* * *
"Not at all. Nothing is changed, in man's own frame of reference. It merely takes our thinking one step farther. That step, of course, isn't easy."
"That is the understatement of all time. What it will do, though, is set up an inferiority complex that would wipe out the whole human race."
"There might be some slight tendency. Also, since my basic assumption can't be justified, the whole thing may be fallacious. So I'm not going to publish it." He glanced at the chart and it vanished.
"Clee!" Belle stared, almost goggle-eyed. "With your name? The tremendous splash ... I see. You're really grown up."
"Not all the way, probably; but pretty nearly—I hope."
"But some of the ... not exactly corollaries, but...." Belle's face, which had regained some of its color, began again to pale.
"Which one of the many?"
"The most shattering one, to me, concerns intelligence. If it is true that our vaunted mentality is only that of one blood cell compared to that of a whole brain ... and that intelligence is banked, level upon level ... well, it's simply mind-wrecking. I've been trying madly not to think of that concept, at all, but I can't put it off much longer."
"Now's as good a time as any. I'll hold your hand."
"You'd better hold more of me than that, I think."
"I'll do even that, in a good cause." He put his arms around her; held her close. "Go ahead. Face it. All the way down and all the way up. You've got what it takes. You'll come back sane and it'll never bother you again."
She closed her eyes, put her head on his shoulder. Her every muscle went tense.
Neither of them ever knew how long they stood there, close-clasped and motionless in silence; but finally her muscles loosened. She lifted her head; raised her brimming eyes.
"All the way down?" he asked.
"To almost a geometrical point."
"And all the way up?"
"I touched the fringe of infinity."
"Intelligence all the way?"
"All the way. I couldn't understand any of them, of course, but I looked each one squarely in the eye."
"Good girl. And you're still sane."
"As much so as ever ... more so, maybe." She disengaged herself, sat down on the bed, lighted a cigarette, and smoked half of it. Then she stood up. "Clee, if anything in the whole universe ever knocked hell out of anything, that did out of me. I'm going to do something that will take about ten minutes. Will you wait right here?"
"Of course. Take all the time you want."
* * *
When she came back Garlock leaped to his feet and stared speechlessly. He could not even whistle. Belle's hair was now its natural deep, rich chestnut, her lipstick was red, her nails were bare, and she wore a white shirt and an almost-knee-length crimson skirt.
"Here's what I'm going to do," she said, quietly. "I'm going to be a plain, ordinary brownette. I'm going to marry you as soon as we land; registered permanent family. I'm going to have six kids and spoil them rotten. In short, I have grown up—partly up, at least—too."
"Plain?" he managed, finally. "Ordinary? You? Yes—like a super-nova going off under a man's feet!" With a visible effort, Garlock pulled himself together. "I don't need to tell you what a surprise this is, and can't tell you what it means to me. But you never have said you love me. Hadn't you better?"
"I'm afraid to. Our next kiss will be different. I'd spoil all this nice new make-up." She tried to grin in her old-time fashion, but failed. She sobered, then, and went on with a completely new intensity. "Listen, Clee. I'm all done—forever—lying and pretending to you. I love you so much that ... well, there simply aren't any thoughts. And when I think of how I acted, it hurts—Lord, how it hurts! I don't see how you can love me at all. It'd take a miracle."
"Miracles happen, then." He put both arms around her, very gently. "For the first time in my life I'm cutting my screens to zero. Come in."
"What?" For a moment she was unable to believe the thought. Then, cutting her own shield, she went fully into his mind. "Oh, I didn't dare hope you could possibly feel.... Oh, this is wonderful, Clee—simply wonderful!"
As the two fully-opened minds met and joined she threw both arms around him and their embrace tightened as though their bodies were trying to become as nearly one as were their minds. Finally she pulled herself away and put up a solid block.
"What a mess!" she said, shakily. "Lipstick all over you."
"Why words, sweetheart? That was perfect."
"Oh, it was ... but wide open, with such a mind as yours...." she paused, then came back to normal almost with a snap. "... but say; I'll bet that's what Therea and Alsyne were doing. That 'fusion' thing. We'll practise it tonight."
He pondered briefly. "Sure it was."
"But he said they learned it from us. How could he have, when we.... Oh, we did, of course, in moments of high stress ... but we didn't actually know it...." She paused.
"We wouldn't admit it, you mean, even to ourselves."
"Maybe; and of course it never occurred to us—callow youngsters we were then, weren't we?—that it could be done for more than a microsecond at a time. Or that two people could ever, possibly, live that way."
"Or what a life it would be. So let's chop this and get back to you and me."
"Uh-huh, let's," she agreed, but in a severely practical tone. "You've got lipstick even on your shirt. So change it and I'll go put on a new face and bring over some stuff and clean you up."
While she cleaned, she talked. "I told you our next kiss would be different, but I had no idea ... wow! That will be as much different, too, I'm sure.... Hm-h-h-nh?" Again she pressed herself against him; this time in a somewhat different fashion.
"Stop that, you little devil, or I'll...." His arms came up of themselves, but he forced them back down. "... No, I won't. We'll save that for tonight, too."
"I'll behave myself!" She laughed, pure joy in voice, eyes, and smile. "I bet myself you wouldn't and I won! You're tall, solid gold, Clee darling—the absolute top."
"Thanks, sweetheart. I wish that were true," he said, soberly. "But I can't help wondering if two such hellions as you and I are can make a go of marriage—no, cancel that. We'll do it—all we have to figure out is how."
"I know what you mean. Not at first—it'll be purely wonderful then. After five years, say, when the glamor has worn off and I've had three of our six children and two of them are in bed with the epizootic and I'm all frazzled out and you're strung up tight as a bowstring with overwork and...."
"Hold it! Uh-uh. No. If we can live together six months—or even six weeks—without killing each other, we'll have it made. It's at first that it'll be rugged. No matter how rugged it gets, though, we'll know one thing for certain sure. We couldn't live apart. That'll give us enough leverage. Check?"
"And double check." She giggled sunnily. "I'll take care of any and all situations, whatever they are, that arise in the first six months. You'll be responsible for the next sixty years. That's a perfectly fair and equitable division of responsibility. Now kiss me and we'll go."
* * *
When Garlock cut the Gunther blocks, however, James' thought came instantly in. "Been trying to get you for twenty minutes," and in a couple of seconds he brought Garlock and Belle up to date. "So Fatso's been waiting in Evans' office. He's throwing fits all over the place and Evans and Macey are going quietly mad."
"He'll have to wait," Garlock decided instantly. "No matter how many fits he has, no such decision is going to be made until there's enough of a Galactic Council to make it."
"Well, you'll have to tell him that yourself. In person."
"I'll do just that, and tell him so he'll stay told."
"Okay, but shake a...."
Belle and Garlock 'ported out into the Main, arms around each other like a couple of college freshmen.
"... leg-g—ug—gug...." James gurgled.
"Belle!" Lola shrieked. "Why—Belle—Bellamy!"
"What goes on here?" James demanded.
"Nothing much," Garlock replied, although he blushed almost as deeply as Belle did. "We just decided to quit fighting, is all. Cut the rope, Junior, and let the old bucket drop."